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Schaeffer & Budenberg Steam Engine Indicator

National Museum of American History
Schaeffer and Budenberg manufactured this steam engine indicator. It consists of a large brass piston with a single groove; a vented brass; an internal, single wound spring, which can be changed; a large drum with a coil spring and continuous record; and a small, steel stylus. The record paper is inside the drum with a ratchet and pawl that turns the paper.

An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine.

A mechanical indicator consists of a piston, spring, stylus, and recording system. The gas pressure of the cylinder deflects the piston and pushes against the spring, creating a linear relationship between the gas pressure and the deflection of the piston against the spring. The deflection is recorded by the stylus on a rotating drum that is connected to the piston. Most indicators incorporate a mechanical linkage to amplify the movement of the piston to increase the scale of the record.

When the ratio of the frequency of the pressure variation to the natural frequency of the system is small, then the dynamic deflection is equal to the static deflection. To design a system with a high natural frequency, the mass of the piston, spring, stylus, and mechanical linkage must be small, but the stiffness of the spring must be high. The indicator is subjected to high temperatures and pressures and rapid oscillations, imposing a limitation on the reduction in mass. Too stiff a spring will result in a small displacement of the indicator piston and a record too small to measure with accuracy. Multiplication of the displacement will introduce mechanical ad dynamic errors.

The parameters of the problem for designing an accurate and trouble free recorder are such that there is no easy or simple solution. Studying the variety of indicators in the collection shows how different inventors made different compromises in their designs.

Schaeffer & Budenberg Steam Engine Indicator

National Museum of American History
Shaeffer & Budenberg manufactured this steam engine indicator. It consists of a large brass piston with a single groove; a vented brass cylinder; an internal, single wound spring, which can be changed; a large drum with a spiral spring and single record; and a heavy brass stylus. Accompanying the indicator is a wooden box with three scales and a wooden ram rod.

An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine.

A mechanical indicator consists of a piston, spring, stylus, and recording system. The gas pressure of the cylinder deflects the piston and pushes against the spring, creating a linear relationship between the gas pressure and the deflection of the piston against the spring. The deflection is recorded by the stylus on a rotating drum that is connected to the piston. Most indicators incorporate a mechanical linkage to amplify the movement of the piston to increase the scale of the record.

When the ratio of the frequency of the pressure variation to the natural frequency of the system is small, then the dynamic deflection is equal to the static deflection. To design a system with a high natural frequency, the mass of the piston, spring, stylus, and mechanical linkage must be small, but the stiffness of the spring must be high. The indicator is subjected to high temperatures and pressures and rapid oscillations, imposing a limitation on the reduction in mass. Too stiff a spring will result in a small displacement of the indicator piston and a record too small to measure with accuracy. Multiplication of the displacement will introduce mechanical ad dynamic errors.

The parameters of the problem for designing an accurate and trouble free recorder are such that there is no easy or simple solution. Studying the variety of indicators in the collection shows how different inventors made different compromises in their designs.

Schaeffer & Budenberg Steam Engine Indicator

National Museum of American History
Schaeffer and Budenberg manufactured this steam engine indicator, serial number 11059. It consists of a large steel piston with two grooves; a brass cylinder and aluminum body; an internal spring, which is missing; a light aluminum drum with a spiral spring and a single record; and a brass stylus.

An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine.

A mechanical indicator consists of a piston, spring, stylus, and recording system. The gas pressure of the cylinder deflects the piston and pushes against the spring, creating a linear relationship between the gas pressure and the deflection of the piston against the spring. The deflection is recorded by the stylus on a rotating drum that is connected to the piston. Most indicators incorporate a mechanical linkage to amplify the movement of the piston to increase the scale of the record.

When the ratio of the frequency of the pressure variation to the natural frequency of the system is small, then the dynamic deflection is equal to the static deflection. To design a system with a high natural frequency, the mass of the piston, spring, stylus, and mechanical linkage must be small, but the stiffness of the spring must be high. The indicator is subjected to high temperatures and pressures and rapid oscillations, imposing a limitation on the reduction in mass. Too stiff a spring will result in a small displacement of the indicator piston and a record too small to measure with accuracy. Multiplication of the displacement will introduce mechanical ad dynamic errors.

The parameters of the problem for designing an accurate and trouble free recorder are such that there is no easy or simple solution. Studying the variety of indicators in the collection shows how different inventors made different compromises in their designs.

Scarf

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Creped cotton scarf with an abstract geometric design resembling a diagram of a computer chip. In black and white; one side is the negative image of the other.

Samples and charts

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Two weave diagrams and one drawing of doublecloth cross section and two woven textile samples, all attached to a piece of cardboard. One sample (a) is doublecloth in red and white cotton and the other is double faced plain weave and twill in tan, yellow, brown and white.

Sample book

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Weaver's sample book with hand woven samples and diagrams. Samples are mostly geometrical in pattern. Executed by the husband of the donor.

Ross Surface Form #16, Dissection Illustrating the Pythagorean Theorem

National Museum of American History
This is the sixteenth in a series of models of plane figures (surface forms) designed by William Wallace Ross, a school superintendent and mathematics teacher in Fremont, Ohio. It illustrates the Pythagorean theorem for a right triangle of sides of length 3, 4, and 5. The unpainted wooden object consists of a central right angled triangle with a square attached to each side. The smallest square is undivided. A paper sticker on it has a mark that reads: Right Angled Triangle with Attached (/) Squares 3x4x5. The next largest square is divided into four pieces and has a paper sticker with a diagram on it attached to one piece. The largest square is divided into three unequal pieces, with a paper sticker with a diagram on it attached to one piece. The backs of the three squares are divided into square grids. Rearranging the four pieces adjacent to the medium-sized square around the small square gives a square equal in area to the largest square. One also can rearrange the pieces of the large square to form two adjacent squares, each equal in area to one of the smaller squares. This illustration of the Pythagorean theorem is associated with the English mathematician Henry Perigal. For further information about Ross models, including references, see 1985.0112.191. Reference: Henry Perigal, “On geometric dissections and transformations, The Messenger of Mathematics, 1, 1874, pp. 103-106.

Robertson-Thompson Steam Engine Indicator - ca 1900

National Museum of American History
An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine. The James L. Robertson & Sons of New York, NY, manufactured this steam indicator about 1900. The indicator is based on a design patented by Joseph W. Thompson which made improvements in the mechanisms driving the recording stylus thus allowing improved measurements of higher speed steam engines. The design also includes elements from another patent by Alpheus O. Lippincott and assigned to Robertson. It dealt with the reduction wheel mechanism below the recording drum. The reduction mechanism allowed for measuring engines with a variety of piston throw lengths.

This indicator set contains within the mahogany box the indicator itself; extra springs of varying stiffness for different steam pressures; a reducing wheel to decrease the piston motion to that required by the indicator drum; sized wooden pulleys for different piston stroke lengths; an extra indicator piston of small diameter for very high pressures; a planimeter for measuring the area of the diagram; servicing tools; and extra blanks. The piston causes the stylus to rise and fall with pressure changes in the engine under measurement thereby directly recording the indicator’s output on the paper. Around the drum’s base is wound a cord that is attached to the connecting rod of the piston on the steam engine being measured. This causes the drum to rotate as the engine’s piston moves. An internal coil spring causes the cord to retract and the drum to counter rotate back to its original position as the connecting rod returns. The result is a steam pressure-volume diagram which is used to measure the efficiency and other attributes of the steam engine.

The introduction of the steam indicator in the late 1790s and early 1800s by James Watt and others had a great impact on the understanding of how the steam behaved inside the engine's cylinder and thereby enabled much more exacting and sophisticated designs. The devices also changed how the economics and efficiency of steam engines were portrayed and marketed. They helped the prospective owner of a machine better understand how much his fuel costs would be for a given amount of work performed.

Measurement of fuel consumed and work delivered by the engine was begun by Watt, who in part justified the selling price of his engines on the amount of fuel cost the purchaser might save compared to an alternate engine. In the early days of steam power, the method to compare engine performance was based on a concept termed the engine’s “duty”. It originally was calculated as the number of pounds of water raised one foot high per one bushel of coal consumed. The duty method was open to criticism due to its inability to take into consideration finer points of efficiency in real world applications of engines. Accurate determination of fuel used in relation to work performed has been fundamental to the design and improvement of all steam-driven prime movers ever since Watt’s time. And, the steam indicators’ key contribution was the accurate measurements of performance while the engine was actually doing the work it was designed to do. This Robertson-Thompson steam indicator represented over one hundred years of evolution and improvement of the devices. Its ability to make recordings for a wide range of engine speeds, pressures and piston stroke lengths was a significant improvement for many applications.

Robertson-Thompson Steam Engine Indicator

National Museum of American History
This Robertson-Thompson steam engine indicator, serial number 7735, consists of a brass piston with two grooves; a brass cylinder; an internal, single wound spring, which can be changed; a medium sized drum with a coil spring and a single record; and a short pencil lead for the stylus. Accompanying the indicator is a box with two extra springs, drum springs, seven wooden pulleys for the reducer, two scales, and two extra pistons.

An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine.

A mechanical indicator consists of a piston, spring, stylus, and recording system. The gas pressure of the cylinder deflects the piston and pushes against the spring, creating a linear relationship between the gas pressure and the deflection of the piston against the spring. The deflection is recorded by the stylus on a rotating drum that is connected to the piston. Most indicators incorporate a mechanical linkage to amplify the movement of the piston to increase the scale of the record.

When the ratio of the frequency of the pressure variation to the natural frequency of the system is small, then the dynamic deflection is equal to the static deflection. To design a system with a high natural frequency, the mass of the piston, spring, stylus, and mechanical linkage must be small, but the stiffness of the spring must be high. The indicator is subjected to high temperatures and pressures and rapid oscillations, imposing a limitation on the reduction in mass. Too stiff a spring will result in a small displacement of the indicator piston and a record too small to measure with accuracy. Multiplication of the displacement will introduce mechanical ad dynamic errors.

The parameters of the problem for designing an accurate and trouble free recorder are such that there is no easy or simple solution. Studying the variety of indicators in the collection shows how different inventors made different compromises in their designs.

Robertson Steam Engine Indicator

National Museum of American History
An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine. The James L. Robertson & Sons company of New York, NY, manufactured this steam indicator set about 1906. The indicator is based on a design patented by Joseph W. Thompson (Patent No. 167,364, August 31, 1875) which made improvements in the mechanisms driving the recording stylus thus allowing improved measurements of higher speed steam engines. The design also includes elements from another patent by Mr. Robertson (No. 815,038, Mar 13, 1906). It dealt with the reduction wheel mechanism below the recording drum and specifically to the regulation of cord tension to improve accuracy. The reduction mechanism allowed for measuring engines with varying piston throw lengths. This indicator set includes the indicator itself; extra springs of varying stiffness for different steam pressures; a reducing wheel to decrease the piston motion to that required by the indicator drum; with sized wooden pulleys for different piston stroke lengths; an extra indicator piston of small diameter for very high pressures; scales for measuring the area of the diagram; servicing tools; and extra blanks. The piston causes the stylus to rise and fall with pressure changes in the engine under measurement thereby directly recording the indicator’s output on the paper. Around the drum’s base is wound a cord that is attached to the connecting rod of the piston on the steam engine being measured. This causes the drum to rotate as the engine’s piston moves. An internal coil spring causes the cord to retract and the drum to counter rotate back to its original position as the connecting rod returns. The result is a steam pressure-volume diagram which is used to measure the efficiency and other attributes of the steam engine.

The introduction of the steam indicator in the late 1790s and early 1800s by James Watt and others had a great impact on the understanding of how the steam behaved inside the engine's cylinder and thereby enabled much more exacting and sophisticated designs. The devices also changed how the economics and efficiency of steam engines were portrayed and marketed. They helped the prospective owner of a machine better understand how much his fuel costs would be for a given amount of work performed. Measurement of fuel consumed and work delivered by the engine was begun by Watt, who in part justified the selling price of his engines on the amount of fuel cost the purchaser might save compared to an alternate engine. In the early days of steam power, the method to compare engine performance was based on a concept termed the engine’s “duty”. It originally was calculated as the number of pounds of water raised one foot high per one bushel of coal consumed. The duty method was open to criticism due to its inability to take into consideration finer points of efficiency in real world applications of engines . Accurate determination of fuel used in relation to work performed has been fundamental to the design and improvement of all steam-driven prime movers ever since Watt’s time. And, the steam indicators’ key contribution was the accurate measurements of performance while the engine was actually doing the work it was designed to do. This Robertson-Thompson steam indicator represented over one hundred years of evolution and improvement of the devices. Its ability to make recordings for a wide range of engine speeds, pressures and piston stroke lengths was a significant improvement for many applications.

Richards-Elliott Steam Engine Indicator

National Museum of American History
The Elliot Bros. of London manufactured this steam engine indicator. It consists of a brass piston with single groove; a vented brass cylinder; an internal, single wound spring, which can be changed; a large, brass drum that is nickel plated with a coil spring and single record; and a heavy, steel stylus.

An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine.

A mechanical indicator consists of a piston, spring, stylus, and recording system. The gas pressure of the cylinder deflects the piston and pushes against the spring, creating a linear relationship between the gas pressure and the deflection of the piston against the spring. The deflection is recorded by the stylus on a rotating drum that is connected to the piston. Most indicators incorporate a mechanical linkage to amplify the movement of the piston to increase the scale of the record.

When the ratio of the frequency of the pressure variation to the natural frequency of the system is small, then the dynamic deflection is equal to the static deflection. To design a system with a high natural frequency, the mass of the piston, spring, stylus, and mechanical linkage must be small, but the stiffness of the spring must be high. The indicator is subjected to high temperatures and pressures and rapid oscillations, imposing a limitation on the reduction in mass. Too stiff a spring will result in a small displacement of the indicator piston and a record too small to measure with accuracy. Multiplication of the displacement will introduce mechanical ad dynamic errors.

The parameters of the problem for designing an accurate and trouble free recorder are such that there is no easy or simple solution. Studying the variety of indicators in the collection shows how different inventors made different compromises in their designs.

Richards Steam Engine Indicator, ca 1864

National Museum of American History
An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine. This indicator was designed and patented (U.S. Patent No. 37980) by C.B. Richards of Hartford, CT in 1863. This particular unit was manufactured by Elliott Brothers of London, England. The American Steam Gauge Co. of Boston, MA also manufactured this type of indicator. Made of brass, it consists of a cylinder and piston and a separate drum mounted on a parallel axis holding the recording paper. The piston causes the stylus to rise and fall with pressure changes in the engine under measurement thereby directly recording the indicator’s output on the paper. Around the drum’s base is wound a cord that is attached to the connecting rod of the piston on the steam engine being measured. This causes the drum to rotate as the engine’s piston moves. An internal coil spring causes the cord to retract and the drum to counter rotate back to its original position as the connecting rod returns. The result is a steam pressure-volume diagram which is used to measure the efficiency and other attributes of the steam engine. The Richards Indicator was a significant improvement over the then standard McNaught Indicator which was not fully satisfactory for measurements of high speed steam engines. Richards' patent for his indicator makes note of the lightness and short stroke of the indicator's piston. This reduced the inertia of the moving parts of the unit and enabled its use on high speed engines. Richards’ patent also added a system of levers to the recording stylus in order to multiply the piston range by a factor of four while still producing a straight vertical motion proportional to the piston extension. This enabled a large and legible diagram to be traced on the drum even with the reduced piston range. The levers and pencil are made from lightweight materials to again reduce inertia.

The introduction of the steam indicator in the late 1790s and early 1800s by James Watt and others had a great impact on the understanding of how the steam behaved inside the engine's cylinder and thereby enabled much more exacting and sophisticated designs. The devices also changed how the economics and efficiency of steam engines were portrayed and marketed. They helped the prospective owner of a machine better understand how much his fuel costs would be for a given amount of work performed. Measurement of fuel consumed and work delivered by the engine was begun by Watt, who in part justified the selling price of his engines on the amount of fuel cost the purchaser might save compared to an alternate engine. In the early days of steam power, the method to compare engine performance was based on a concept termed the engine’s “duty”. It originally was calculated as the number of pounds of water raised one foot high per one bushel of coal consumed. The duty method was open to criticism due to its inability to take into consideration finer points of efficiency in real world applications of engines . Accurate determination of fuel used in relation to work performed has been fundamental to the design and improvement of all steam-driven prime movers ever since Watt’s time. And, the steam indicators’ key contribution was the accurate measurements of performance while the engine was actually doing the work it was designed to do. This Richards steam indicator represented over one hundred years of evolution and improvement of the devices. Its ability to make recordings on high speed steam engines was a significant improvement for many applications.

Richards Steam Engine Indicator - ca 1863

National Museum of American History
An engine indicator is an instrument for graphically recording the pressure versus piston displacement through an engine stroke cycle. Engineers use the resulting diagram to check the design and performance of the engine. This indicator was designed and patented by C.B. Richards of Hartford, CT in 1863 . Units of this design were manufactured by the American Steam Gauge Co. of Boston, MA and the Elliott Brothers of London, England.

Made of brass, it consists of a cylinder and piston and a separate drum mounted on a parallel axis holding the recording paper. The piston causes the stylus to rise and fall with pressure changes in the engine under measurement thereby directly recording the indicator’s output on the paper. Around the drum’s base is wound a cord that is attached to the connecting rod of the piston on the steam engine being measured. This causes the drum to rotate as the engine’s piston moves. An internal coil spring causes the cord to retract and the drum to counter rotate back to its original position as the connecting rod returns. The result is a steam pressure-volume diagram which is used to measure the efficiency and other attributes of the steam engine.

The Richards Indicator was a significant improvement over the then standard McNaught Indicator which was not fully satisfactory for measurements of high speed steam engines. Richards' patent for his indicator makes note of the lightness and short stroke of the indicator's piston. This reduced the inertia of the moving parts of the unit and enabled its use on high speed engines. Richards’ patent also added the system of levers to the recording stylus in order to multiply the piston range by a factor of four while still producing a straight vertical motion proportional to the piston extension. This enabled a large and legible diagram to be traced on the drum even with the reduced piston range. The levers and pencil are made from lightweight materials to again reduce inertia.

The introduction of the steam indicator in the late 1790s and early 1800s by James Watt and others had a great impact on the understanding of how the steam behaved inside the engine's cylinder and thereby enabled much more exacting and sophisticated designs. The devices also changed how the economics and efficiency of steam engines were portrayed and marketed. They helped the prospective owner of a machine better understand how much his fuel costs would be for a given amount of work performed.

Measurement of fuel consumed and work delivered by the engine was begun by Watt, who in part justified the selling price of his engines on the amount of fuel cost the purchaser might save compared to an alternate engine. In the early days of steam power, the method to compare engine performance was based on a concept termed the engine’s “duty”. It originally was calculated as the number of pounds of water raised one foot high per one bushel of coal consumed. The duty method was open to criticism due to its inability to take into consideration finer points of efficiency in real world applications of engines. Accurate determination of fuel used in relation to work performed has been fundamental to the design and improvement of all steam-driven prime movers ever since Watt’s time. And, the steam indicators’ key contribution was the accurate measurements of performance while the engine was actually doing the work it was designed to do. This Richards steam indicator represented over one hundred years of evolution and improvement of the devices. Its ability to make recordings on high speed steam engines was a significant improvement for many applications.

Restaurant Florent: Stomach diagram

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
An illustration of a cutaway view of a human stomach is centered on the page. Thin

straight lines, extending from various parts of the stomach, end in eight food labels in miniature black sans serif type: for example, creme caramel, escargots, and coffee. Restaurant Florent, in larger, yet small, capitals, is centered above, and the address, telephone and hours of business are centered below. A thin-lined rectangle surrounds the whole.

Restaurant Florent: Stomach Diagram

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Recto: An illustration of a cutaway view of a human stomach is centered on a cream-colored card. Thin straight lines, extending horizontally or vertically from various parts of the stomach, end in eight food labels, imprinted in miniature black sans serif type: for example, creme caramel, escargots, and coffee.

Verso: Just below the top left edge, Restaurant Florent, capitalized, is followed underneath by the restaurant's address, hours and telephone number, imprinted on three lines. A thin vertical line, ending at the bottom in Design: M&Co, separates the message and addressee areas. On the upper right, a rectangular outline encloses the word Stamp.

Remembering the "Father of Video Games," Innovator Ralph Baer

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1966, Ralph Baer, an engineer overseeing a cadre of 500 military contractors, was struck with an idea: create a technology that would allow people to interact, directly, with their television sets, which were beginning to become ubiquitous in the American home. For five years, Baer—along with a small team of researchers—set about drafting and tinkering with multiple prototypes, eventually submitting a patent for the first video game system in March of 1971. A little over a year later, in the summer of 1972, Baer and his team licensed their system to Magnavox, who marketed the system under the name "Odyssey." It sold 130,000 units in its first year, becoming the first home video game console—and earning Baer the nickname "father of video games."

Baer, 92, died on Saturday, Dec. 6, at his home in Manchester, N.H., but his legacy lives on in the $90 billion industry born from his imagination in 1966. But to those who knew him, such as Art Molella, director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, Baer's legacy goes beyond the games he invented or the industry he helped to start. "This was a very creative man, a very decent man, very humble. He was really a force," Molella says. "He represents the American legacy about invention. He really is an incredible American story."

Baer was born on March 8, 1922, in Pirmasens, Germany, to a Jewish family which came to America in 1938, fleeing Hitler and Nazi Germany. Settling in the Bronx, Baer worked to pay for correspondence courses that taught him how to repair radios and television sets. In 1943, he was drafted into the Army, becoming an intelligence officer. But he continued to tinker with electronics, making radios in his spare time from German mine detectors. After the war, he earned his bachelor's in television engineering from the American Television Institute of Technology in Chicago. In 1951, he had the idea of adding a game-play feature to a television that he was charged with designing, but was rebuffed by his boss. The idea, however, seems to have stuck with Baer—and 15 years later, the idea was reborn as the first video game.

"Who could have predicated a guy running away from the Nazis as a kid ends up being a major inventor in this country?" Molella asks, adding that "the thing that makes [Baer] what he is is he's just an incredibly creative man. He's driven to create."

Baer met Molella in 2001, after approaching the Lemelson Center with his son Mark. They were looking, Molella says, for a place to donate Baer's papers. Today, the Center is home to Baer's notes, photographs, diagrams and blueprints—as well as items from his home lab, which Molella visited and documented in 2001.

"He worked out of a basement and it was one of these environments that was so suited and tailored to him. It's this place that was not only a resource for all of the 'junk' he could put together in new ways, but it was also a place for contemplation," Molella says. "He built a wall in the basement like the outside of a house, with a mailbox and a little window through it, and to communicate with him while he was in the throes of invention you had to put a letter in the mailbox—even his wife had to put a letter in there. It was his retreat into thought." This July, Baer's lab will be installed in its new home on the first floor of the Lemelson Center, allowing the public to experience the kind of creative retreat where Baer worked.

But the Baer gem of the Lemelson's collection, Molella says, is the "brown box"—the original prototype for a video game console that paved the way for everything from Play Station to Xbox. "That’s the real treasure that we have from him," Molella says. "That's it; that started something."

In addition to the brown box, Baer is responsible for the popular memory game Simon, which he invented in 1978. The early, portable computer game helped pave the way for other popular games, like Pac Man. 

Baer retired from the contracting firm Sanders Associates, Inc.—the company for which he worked when he filed the patent for the first video game—in 1987, but he never stopped imagining new ideas. Molella recalls an award ceremony last year, where Baer was asked why, at his age, he continued inventing. "He said, 'Nobody would say that to Van Gogh,'" Molella remembers. "He said he was compelled to do it."

Remembering Massimo Vignelli, the Innovator Who Streamlined Design and Changed the Industry Forever

Smithsonian Magazine

From the moment Massimo Vignelli started his career in Italy in the mid-1950s, he forged a rigorous philosophy that transformed the international language of design for print, products, and environments. Over the decades, debates about design’s cultural function bubbled and boiled around him. Confronting the upheavals of Pop, post-modernism, deconstruction, and the digital age, Massimo didn’t change his methodology so much as polish it into an ever sharper, more refined instrument. His ability to stay modern in a post-modern world sealed his reputation as one of the great designers of our time. As his career advanced, Massimo’s work and ideas became more relevant, not less. He remains a towering and untarnished design hero, not only to his peers and to the generation who started their own careers in his offices in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, but to designers just entering the field now, who view the elegant man in the modernist menswear with almost mystical reverence.

Drawings for Design Vignelli clothing line, 1990. (Massimo Vignelli)

Massimo Vignelli’s career is inseparable from that of his equally gifted wife, Lella Vignelli. The couple married in 1957 and opened their first firm together in Milan in 1960. While both were trained as architects, Lella continued to focus on three-dimensional design, while Massimo focused on graphics. Together, they could move across disciplines with astonishing grace. In 1964 the Vignellis left Italy for New York City, where Massimo co-founded Unimark International. Specializing in corporate identity—a field encompassing print, signage, interiors, and wayfinding—Unimark quickly expanded to become one of the world’s largest design firms. In its early years, Unimark required employees to wear white lab coats—an idea hatched by Massimo, who had a keen interest in enhancing the dignity of design professionals. In 1992, Massimo and Lella would launch their own functional clothing line (Design Vignelli), which offered a universal solution to the problem of men’s and women’s fashion, with its extra parts and ever-changing silhouettes. Although the Vignellis’ priest-like garbs didn’t find a broad market, they became part of the couples’ signature personal style.

Poster, "Designer's Saturday, 1973", 1973 Offset lithograph on white wove paper. (Collection Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Gift of Lella and Massimo Vignelli. 2009-42-2.)

Massimo left Unimark in 1971 to co-found Vignelli Associates with Lella. The Vignellis’ work shaped New York City in profound ways. Massimo designed numerous posters, journals, and books for architects and architectural associations—indeed, a certain era of New York architecture speaks the language of Vignelli, using forthright Helvetica, upright Bodoni, warm, approachable Century Expanded, and gridded layouts articulated with horizontal bars.

Massimo Vignelli, Poster, "A New Wave of Austrian Architecture", 1980 Offset color lithograph on paper. (Collection Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 1991-69-83.)

Massimo’s modernist innovations sometimes provoked controversy. His 1972 subway diagram for New York City took inspiration from the abstracted transit guides that had been used for decades in London and Tokyo. Emphasizing relationships among subway lines, Massimo’s diagram eliminates extrinsic information and distorts the city’s built geography in favor of revealing connections. Vignelli’s new urban order infuriated some outspoken New Yorkers, and the MTA replaced the iconic map with clunkier, more conventional graphics in 1979. The wayfinding system he created for the New York subway (with Bob Noorda at Unimark) remains in use today. The simple sans serif numbers and letters enclosed in colored circles helped unify New York’s once competing train lines into a single network. The signs are seen and used by millions of people, generating an unforgettable signifier of the New York experience.

Massimo Vignelli, New York City Subway Map, 1972. (Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

Throughout his career, Massimo raged against typographic excess. In his view, a graphic designer should be able to solve nearly any communication problem with no more than five typefaces. (Later, he loosened his list to a dozen). The industrial revolution had unleashed an unholy cacaphony of fonts, made worse by the information overflow of the twentieth century. This typographic deluge yielded what Massimo called the “biggest visual pollution of all times” (Vignelli Canon). If everyone in the early 90s who called themselves a “desktop publisher” were a doctor, he complained, we would all be dead by now. (This might be true, if you think about it.) Massimo’s appearances in Gary Hustwit’s film Helvetica (2007) are among the movie’s most memorable moments. Chastising those who think that every thought or feeling warrants its own unique typeface, Massimo intoned that you don’t need letters that look or sound like a dog to represent the word “dog.” He liked to compare a great typeface to a musical instrument, which can be used to play any song in the hands of a skilled designer; Helvetica is “just like a piano, the more you play it, the more you learn how to play it and the better player you become."

Cooper-Hewitt bestowed the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement on Massimo and Lella Vignelli in 2003. We are  proud to include many works by the Vignellis in our permanent collections and library. In 2012, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) established the Vignelli Center for Design Studies, which houses an extensive archive of the couple’s work and holds public exhibitions and programs. Massimo always believed in the value of design history. He was a supporter of museums and their role in education and preservation. He was a great friend to this museum. We will miss him with all our hearts.

Ellen Lupton is a senior curator of contemporary design at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City, as well as the director of the Maryland Institute College of Art's Graphic Design MFA Program in Baltimore.

Recovered Ruby Slippers visit museum for examination by conservators, curators . . . and FBI agents

National Museum of American History

Dawn Wallace and Richard Barden stood in the museum's objects conservation lab over two shoes. Red. Sequin-covered. Small heels. Petite in size. 

Wallace, an objects conservator, had recently spent more than 200 hours examining the museum's long-cherished pair of Ruby Slippers, worn by Judy Garland while filming the iconic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. Barden, our chief conservator, had spent decades with the museum's collections, including the sparkling shoes that will be returning to view in a new showcase display opening October 19, 2018. 

Those shoes, now fully conserved thanks to the support of 6,000 Kickstarter backers who funded their preservation, were safely stored elsewhere in the museum. The shoes that sat before Wallace and Barden had been delivered by FBI agents for examination, and could be the key to a 13-year-old mystery. 

"Wow, I think these are the real thing," Wallace thought. 

On a white background, two red shoes covered in red sequins. Each has a bow with beads. They aren't new, soles separate form body of shoe. They shine. Kitten heels.The Ruby Slippers in the museum's collection, shown here, are one of a few pairs made for the movie. Our pair was likely worn in dance sequences. Felt on the bottom of the shoes may have muffled the sound of dancing on the Yellow Brick Road. This photo was taken after the completion of the conservation treatment.

An unexpected examination

At the FBI's request, Wallace and Barden were looking for signs that the recovered pair might be the one that went missing in 2005 while on loan to the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota. Was this pair a masterful replica, or would evidence suggest that these shoes were worn by Garland as she worked on the film? 

Two red shoes, kitten heels, covered in red sequins. In the center, a single red sequin. And an FBI badge.The recovered pair, along with an FBI badge. The single sequin shown here was found at the crime scene at the Judy Garland Museum, from which a pair of Ruby Slippers went missing in 2005. 

Wallace and her colleagues would spend nearly two days poring over every detail to assist the FBI in learning as much as possible about the glistening red shoes the agents had brought to the museum. 

National Museum of American History staff do not authenticate objects, but often share knowledge when asked—and, of course, relish "the opportunity to learn more about objects that are so important to American history," as Entertainment Curator Ryan Lintelman put it. Wallace and Barden were eager to use their expertise to determine if the recovered pair's materials, construction, and condition were consistent with the museum's pair.

A woman wearing a green shirt looks at a sequin-covered red shoe, using a stick-like instrument to examine in. Beside her, a microscope.Objects Conservator Dawn Wallace examines the recovered pair of Ruby Slippers. Chief Conservator Richard Barden and Curator Ryan Lintelman also spent hours looking at the shoes in detail. 

Wallace checked every inch of the shoes. Her hours with our Ruby Slippers made her uniquely qualified to spot any minute clues the shoes may offer. The conservation work was a "sequin by sequin sequence," she likes to joke. During that process, she cleaned each sequin, realigning many to expose the silver side with more reflectance and stabilizing the shoes so that they can be on display for years to come. 

Investigating the materials and their condition, Wallace noticed many consistencies with the museum's pair. But it was a clear glass bead on the bow of the left shoe that, for her, confirmed her initial reaction.   

A clear glass clue

Wallace had also spotted clear glass beads painted red while peering through a microscope during conservation work on the museum's pair. Analysis and interviews with Hollywood costumers indicated that the painted-bead replacements were likely repairs made on-set during filming. 

Photo of a red fabric bow covered in beads with dark metal brackets. Three circles indicate where clear beads were painted red instead of using red beads.Circles indicate the location of clear glass beads painted red on the museum's right shoe. Close up photo of bow of Ruby Slippers. Red fabric, yellow thread visible. Two beads are painted red. The others are red glass.This close-up image of the bow on the museum's right shoe shows two clear beads with red paint beside two red glass beads, evidence of an on-set repair. In bottom right is information about the microscope used to capture this image. 

"To me, the glass bead painted red was a eureka moment," Wallace said. "That's a piece of information that hasn't been published anywhere and, as far as I know, isn't widely known. It's a unique element of these shoes, and spotting that bead was a defining moment." 

Extremely close-up image of the bow part of the Ruby Slippers. You can see beads held in place by metal brackets.A clear glass bead is discovered on the bow of the left shoe of the recovered pair. It has flecks of red paint on it.

In addition to examining the shoes, Wallace worked with scientists from the Smithsonian Institution's Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) to analyze their materials using a non-destructive process. They could then compare results between the two pairs. Analysis revealed, for example, that the sequins combine layers of different materials, including cellulose nitrate and a silver backing designed to reflect light and create a sparkle. (Modern sequins have aluminum instead of silver.) 

Close up image of a sequin (extremely close) shows red covering, silver shiny stuff, and gelatin layer. Scratched and worn. Like chipped nail polish.This is a close-up image of a sequin that came off the museum's pair of Ruby Slippers many years ago and has been saved for study. The red coating has flaked, showing the silver reflective layer and gelatin core. This combination of materials presents a preservation challenge as each material may react to light, temperature, and humidity differently—issues museum staff had to navigate while designing a sophisticated display case that would preserve the shoes in just the right environment when they return to display in October 2018.Graphic diagram showing layers of sequins: red cellulose nitrate on top, then silver, then gelatin, then red cellulose nitrate. Like a donut with horizontal slices.Sequins aren't so simple. This diagram shows the different layers present in each sequin of the Ruby Slippers. 

For Barden, the "aha!" moment came while examining the level of deterioration of the recovered pair's sequins. The physical and light damage is consistent with the museum's pair. To replicate this type of aging, one would have to have specialized knowledge. 

"Because of our conservation work on the Ruby Slippers, we created basically a library of information about the shoes," Wallace said. "And we were able to apply that to the pair the FBI brought here and gain more information." The MCI scientists, with Wallace and Barden, plan to publish about the project in the journal Heritage Science this fall and present their findings at conferences to help other museum professionals care for objects like these.

A second solve

The clear glass beads, painted red, offered another surprising insight that, unexpectedly, linked the museum's pair to the recovered pair. The museum's pair is not identical. The heel caps, bows, width, and overall shape do not match; the shoes were brought together from two separate sets. But in examining the recovered shoes, conservators found the left to the museum's right and the right to the museum's left. When temporarily reunited, the four shoes created two matching pairs.

Two red shoes covered in sequins. Each has a bow. Subtle differences between the two.Subtle differences are visible between the two shoes in the museum's pair of Ruby Slippers. The heel caps, for example, aren't identical. Two red shoes covered in sequins with bows. Inside each shoe, you can see the hell. They have different details in the heel. One is a tear. The other is an hour glass shape.The inner heel grips differ dramatically in shape between the two shoes in the museum's collection. The bows are also slightly different.  

It's possible the mix-up happened during preparation for the 1970 auction of items in MGM's costume closets. That's when the museum's pair was purchased—parting ways from other pairs produced for the film—and donated to the museum anonymously in 1979. Both our pair and the recovered pair have felt on the bottom for dance sequences. The Ruby Slippers used in close-ups would have been felt-free.

Two pairs of red shoes covered in red sequins.The recovered pair on the left, the museum's pair on the right. Both are mismatched sets that were briefly reunited during examination by museum experts. Four red shoes covered in sequins. Lines indicate that the left and right shoes go together! These were mismatched years ago.How do the shoes make matching pairs? The recovered left shoe goes with our right shoe and vice versa. 

A pair of shoes, a national treasure

"It was a great experience to see the recovered pair of shoes, for us at the museum," Lintelman said. "The Ruby Slippers have this unique resonance with the public—people watched this movie as kids or over the holidays. . . . It's a shared experience, an adventure story, a fairy tale."

We were honored to be able to share our knowledge, play a role in the recovery of lost history, and continue learning about The Wizard of Oz history. We look forward to our pair of Ruby Slippers returning to display on October 19, 2018.
 

In this video from the FBI, Lintelman and Wallace talk about why the Ruby Slippers are such a powerful symbol and how happy they were to help share their knowledge of the iconic shoes.

 
Erin Blasco manages the museum's blog and social media. She was thrilled to find out that the museum's Keep Them Ruby project had resulted in research that was of service to an FBI investigation and would like to thank the Kickstarter backers for being part of this incredible journey.

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Anyone with information regarding this issue is encouraged to contact the FBI.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, September 4, 2018 - 14:00
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Rate of Military Expenditure Diagram, Page from Fortune

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Black and white printed page from Fortune magazine with a bar chart showing American military expenditure throughout the early 1940s in relation to national income. Bars emerge from a map of the United States at bottom. A dark, cloudy sky is behind the bars above. Verso: Japanese printed text and color illustrations.

Quicktake: Tata Nano

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Quicktake: Tata Nano—The People's Car On view February 18 - April 25, 2010 Unveiled last year in India by Tata Motors, India's largest automobile manufacturer, the Tata Nano is targeted to families who had not previously been able to afford a car. Billed as "the people's car," the base model starts at $2,500 in India and can accommodate up to five adults. A bright, sunshine yellow Nano will be on display in Cooper-Hewitt's Great Hall, along with diagrams and photos illustrating its concept, development and production.

Queens Museum Brings Rube Goldberg Machine to Life

Smithsonian Magazine

When the staff at the Queens Museum learned that a traveling exhibition dedicated to Rube Goldberg was touring the country, they knew their museum needed to be a stop. They also knew the museum had to do something extra special to commemorate their hometown cartoonist, whose name has become synonymous with diagramming overly complicated solutions to common problems. So, the museum decided to bring one of Goldberg’s insane inventions to life.

The design firm Partner & Partners along with designers Greg Mihalko, Stephan von Muehlen and Ben Cohen, in turn, was commissioned to develop a real-life Rube Goldberg machine. The result—on view at the Queens Museum from October 2019 to February 2020—is what you’d imagine if you’re familiar with Goldberg’s work: visitors can press a green button, which sets an animated bird into flight. The bird then triggers an electric fan that blows a pinwheel, activating a motor that drives a boot. The boot kicks a watering can, which startles a digital cat, yada, yada, yada, until, finally, a banner falls. Subtract a few burning cigars and add in some digital updates, and it’s basically a diagram come to life.

The touring exhibition itself, called The Art of Rube Goldberg, has been going since 2017 and is the first major retrospective of the cartoonist since a 1970 exhibition at the Smithsonian. It spans his entire 72-year career. Goldberg, who was born in 1883, studied engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. But drawing was his true passion, as Emily Wilson explained previously for Smithsonian.com. After a brief stint diagramming sewers, Goldberg ditched his engineering job to illustrate a local sports paper. He eventually moved to Queens, New York, where he began drawing a series of popular, nationally syndicated comics in the late teens and early 1920s including “Boob McNutt,” “Lala Palooza” and “Foolish Questions.”

While all of them were popular—and earned Goldberg rock star status and lots of money—none was more popular than the series “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts” in which Goldberg illustrated very complex methods for doing simple things, often involving swinging boots, springs, rockets, annoyed birds, pots and pans and lots of string. The diagrams were so popular that as early as 1931 Merriam-Webster included “Rube Goldberg” in its dictionary as an adjective meaning “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply,” per the New Yorker.

(Artwork Copyright © Rube Goldberg Inc. All rights reserved. )

While the inventions were more or less fun doodles, Goldberg did have a point to make, saying they were a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results.”

Goldberg, who lived until 1970, had career highlights far beyond his machines. In 1930, he went to Hollywood to produce a script he’d written called Soup to Nuts which featured the debut of the Three Stooges. In 1948, he went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. But his machines are his most lasting legacy, and remain relevant to this day.

A recent children’s book Rube Goldberg’s Simple Normal Humdrum School Day even imagines a young Rube using his fanciful machines to do everything from wake up in the morning to finish his homework. Goldberg’s estate also promotes Rube Goldberg Machine contests, in which students use everyday household objects to do the simplest tasks in the funniest way possible.

“It’s the idea of limitless possibilities to almost an absurd degree,” Sophia Marisa Lucas, curator at the Queens Museum, tells Nancy Kenney at The Art Newspaper, pinning down the lasting appeal of Goldberg's wacky inventions. “The core idea is that in pursuit of endless convenience, new languages and new sensibilities have to be orchestrated. We have to learn how to maneuver in the world differently.”

Psychological Apparatus, Electronic Stimulating and Recording Unit

National Museum of American History
This metal frame holds several electronic units. On the right side, in a single cabinet, are five groups of dials and switches, each with its own white plastic panel in front. These five groups are labeled, from top to bottom: Timer, Strobe, Sweep, Delayers and Stimulators. On the left side in an upper cabinet there is some empty space and then groups of dials and switches on white plastic panels labeled Integrator Serial No. 6119, Integrator Control Panel, Display Selector and Differentiator Serial No. 5710, and Speaker Amplifier Serial No. 5812. The speaker amplifier panel includes a gauge made by British Physical Laboratory. The back of the cabinet holding these units has several diagrams drawn on it. Attached to the top of this cabinet toward the front is a connecting unit which has eighteen jacks for electrical connections, six each red, black and white. Below these left panels is a larger panel with additional switches and dials which has its own cabinet. A tag near on the third unit down on the right reads: Electronic Stimulating and Recording Unit (/) Designed and Constructed [/] in the [/] Otago Medical School (/) New Zealand (/) 1951. A metal tag at the top reads: THE AUSTRALIAN {/} NATIONAL UNIVERSITY [/] NO. A crayon mark below this reads: ELECTRONIC STIMULATING & RECORDING UNIT w / POWER SUPPLIES. Several units are marked: SUNY. This object reflects the long research career of Sir John C. Eccles (1903-1997), an Australian-born neurophysiologist who trained at Melbourne University in Australia and then did advanced work at Oxford University with Charles S. Sherrington. In 1937, he returned to Australia, and then moved to New Zealand in 1944. As the tag indicates, at least part of this apparatus was built near the end of his stay there. In 1952, Eccles moved to the Australian University in Canberra. University policies required that he retire in 1966, and he moved to the United States, working first in Chicago and then at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1975, Eccles retired from Buffalo to Geneva, Switzerland, leaving behind papers and this unit. The object came to the Smithsonian in 1981. During his time in New Zealand, Eccles developed apparatus for studying neural transmission and became convinced that transmission from nerve cell to nerve cell or nerve cell to muscle cell occurred through a chemical reaction and not strictly by an electrical mechanism. This is part of the apparatus he used in such studies. In 1963, he would share the Nobel Prize for physiology or Medicine for this wok. The other winners were Britons Alan L. Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley, who worked together at Cambridge University. Eccles took the stimulating and recording unit with him when he moved to Australia and then to the United States. References: Accession file. D. George Joseph, “John C. Eccles,” Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists, Emily J. McMurray, editor; Jane Kelly Kosek and Roger M. Valade III, associate editors, Detroit: Gale Research, 1995, vol. 1, pp. 542-544. Martin Weil, “Sir John Eccles, 94, Dies; Nobel-Winning Scientist,” Washington Post, May 3, 1997, p. B4.

Preparatory Design for Silk: Diagramming the Repeat

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Waved twigs with large blossoms rise against a background with a lace design. This part of the design alternates with another showing panels framed by ribbons with carnations and containing blossoms and seeds.
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